Books I Read in December

Hi Friends, it’s been quiet here the past few weeks, because I was travelling in China for the holidays! I’ll be sharing some photos soon, but all of the time on planes, trains, and boats made for some quality reading time! I read 13 books in December, bringing the final 2015 number of books read to: 74. I’ll be posting soon with some reflections on 2015, but for now, in no particular order, the books I read in December were:

the-age-of-innocenceEdith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence – I read this as part of my quest to read all of the Pulitzer winners. This was my second attempt at reading Edith Wharton, and I found it much more enjoyable than Ethan Frome. Did you know this book was adapted into a film directed by Martin Scorsese, who said that this was the most violent film he’s ever made? Of course, he’s referring to an emotional-violence instead of physical brutality. I’m currently sick with a cold, so I will be watching this movie under a layer of blankets this weekend. Have you seen it?

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straightjamesJames Franco’s Straight James / Gay James – While I’ve already reviewed this book, I just want to add that it’s stuck with me a little more than I expected it to. I have never taken James Franco very seriously as a writer, but I think there is something very brave about putting your poetry out there, especially for people who wouldn’t necessarily consider themselves a poet. While I’d still rather see him in a movie than on paper, I will have to think twice before rolling my eyes at his next publication.

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missoula

Jon Krakauer’s Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town – this book was a well-written and provocative look into such a grim and violent subject – acquaintance rape, date rape, whatever you want to call it. Jon Krakauer follows the personal stories of a few rape cases that occurred within a few weeks of each other in Missoula, Montana. I think the most terrifying thing is that Missoula is not an anomaly, and these stories are happening much more frequently than we’d like to think. This should be required reading on every college campus.

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fox 8.jpgGeorge Saunders’ Fox 8 – This novella is exclusively available as an eBook (it’s only 99 cents! Go buy it!) and I borrowed it from the New York Public Library. In true Saunders’ form, this story is hilarious, violent, and depressing all at once. The story is told by a Fox who learns how to Yuman – “So came bak nite upon nite, seeted upon that window, trying to lern. And in time, so many werds came threw my ears and into my brane, that, if I thought upon them, cud understand Yuman pretty gud, if I heer it!”

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gap of timeJeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time – I don’t think my admittedly rushed-before-going-to-China review did this book justice, so I might revisit and rework my post later this year. This is Winterson’s “cover” of William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, of which Winterson says, “All of us have talismanic texts that we have carried around and that carry us around. I have worked with The Winter’s Tale in many disguises for many years.”  For some reason, this book reminded me of Station Eleven, maybe because of the post-crisis emphasis on Shakespeare?

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alice adamsBooth Tarkington’s Alice Adams – This was the 1922 Recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, notably Tarkington’s second Pulitzer (and in a span of four years!) I found it much more enjoyable than his previous winner, The Magnificent Ambersons. I’m not sure if I would have awarded this book any sort of award, but then again, maybe there were slimmer pickings in the 1920s, what do you think? This was made into a movie starring Katharine Hepburn in the 1930s, so we know the book was popular for quite a while! I’ll have to add this to the list of movie adaptations to watch (and write about!)

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one of oursWilla Cather’s One of Ours – This was the 1923 Recipient of the Pulitzer Prize. I was really on a Pulitzer roll this month! It is a sprawling epic story that follows Claude Wheeler from a child in Nebraska to a soldier in France during World War II. Claude is a shy dreamer with big ideas about what he wants from life and love. I found him sweetly relatable. I’ve read online that this was one of Willa Cather’s weaker works, but as I’ve never read anything else of hers, I can’t make that call (yet). I’ll be writing more about this later, and would definitely consider reading more by Willa.

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rashomon

Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s Rashomon – I picked this book up at the Strand’s Central Park location on  a whim, because I’ve seen Akira Kurasawa’s 1950 film Rashomon. This book is a collection of 6 short stories, between 8 – 15 pages long each. I really loved the writing style (but can never tell how much is attributable to the translator versus the writer) and the stories were all incredibly human, magical, and touching. Fun fact: the film was actually based on a combination of two of the short stories in this collection: In a Grove and Rashomon.

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the winter's taleWilliam Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale

My favorite passage:

Is whispering nothing?
Is leaning cheek to cheek? is meeting noses?
Kissing with inside lip? stopping the career
Of laughing with a sigh?–a note infallible
Of breaking honesty–horsing foot on foot?
Skulking in corners? wishing clocks more swift?
Hours, minutes? noon, midnight? and all eyes
Blind with the pin and web but theirs, theirs only,
That would unseen be wicked? is this nothing?

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the reason i jumpNaoki Higashida’s The Reason I Jump – This book is incredible – it was written by a thirteen year old Japanese autistic boy who often has trouble with verbal communication. I first heard about the book when I saw Jon Stewart interview Naoki on The Daily Show a few years ago. When I was in high school, I volunteered as an art teacher to autistic students, but I must admit that I still had no idea about their capacity for emotional depth and understanding. Reading this book really challenged a lot of my biases and made me feel ashamed (in the best possible positive way.)

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we should all be feministsChimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All be Feminists – This book is based on a Ted talk that Chimamanda gave (online here), which you will most likely recognize from Beyonce’s Flawless. While I didn’t need convincing from Chimamanda to be a feminist, it is always refreshing to hear the arguments from such an articulate and compassionate person. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend buying the book, you should definitely watch the video if you haven’t yet.

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teen spiritFrancesca Lia Block’s Teen Spirit – I do not think I’ll ever be too old to read Francesca Lia Block. This book is perfect to read around Halloween! Spoiler Alert – this is the story of a girl who is trying to communicate with her dead grandmother and a boy who is possibly possessed by his angry dead twin. Although the ending is a little cliched, I don’t think anyone reads Block for the plot, but more for her rich language and imagery, the smell of the flowers leap off the page.

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the chronology of water.jpgLidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water – I read this book because Cheryl Strayed said it was her favorite book. This memoir is not for the faint-hearted. Lidia Yuknavitch has lived so many lives and tackles everything head-on, from losing a child to being molested by her father, struggling to write to S&M parties and her fascination with being whipped. Her writing style is self-described as “weird” and it’s no wonder that Chuck Palahniuk introduced her to his writing group. This book pushed me out of my comfort zone and was an emotional and gripping read from start to finish.

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I can’t believe that concludes 2015! Of these books, I would most highly recommend Fox 8 and Missoula. What did you read in December? What’s on your list for 2016? How many books did you read in 2015, and does that number even matter or mean anything to you? I’m a believer in quality over quantity, but it’s definitely satisfying to tackle a long to-read list.

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The Gap of Time, Jeanette Winterson

gap of time

Jeanette Winterson is one of my favorite contemporary writers, so when I saw that she was writing a “cover” version of Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale, I dropped everything to get my hands on a copy. Gap of Time is Winterson’s reimagining of Shakespeare’s play. Gap of Time is named after the ending stanza of The Winter’s Tale:

Lead us from hence, where we may leisurely
Each one demand an answer to his part
Perform’d in this wide gap of time since first
We were dissever’d: hastily lead away.

Although I’ve never read the play, this book stands on its own. It’s a book about jealousy, madness, and repentance. Winterson cheekily sets this book in the future; it’s a post-financial-crisis world, where New York is a place called New Bohemia. Leo’s wife Mimi is pregnant, and Leo becomes obsessed with the idea that Mimi is cheating on him with his best friend, Xeno. In true Shakespearean style, chaos ensues. And in true Wintersonian style, there’s a mix of prose, dialogue, and something like poetry. She throws in quotes from Shakespeare and even inserts herself into the book (briefly, in passing.) Although it took me a few chapters to get oriented, once I did, it was such a lyrical and emotional read. I found myself underlining, highlighting, and rereading every page.

Winterson has rewritten so many stories, and this one is just as wonderful as the others. If you’ve never read anything by Jeanette before, here’s a sample of her writing style:

So many stories of lost and found.

As though the whole of history is a vast Lost-Property Department.

Perhaps it began when the moon splintered off from the earth, pale, lonely, watchful, present, unsocial, inspired. Earth’s autistic twin.

And all the stories of twins begin. Paris who can’t be separated but can’t be together. Of shut-outs and lock-outs, and feuds and broken hearts and lovers who think they are immortal until one of them dies.

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I would recommend this book to fans of adaptations, people who enjoy a British sense of humor, and enjoy lyrical prose (I recognize that Jeanette may not be everyone’s cup of tea!)

Additional Resources:

This Week in Review – 11/13/2015

This Week in Review

We thought we’d keep it nice and simple this week, so without further adieu, this week in review:

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This week we posted:

  1. Whatever Happened to Booth Tarkington?
  2. A Pairing: Leonardo Da Vinci + Ross Gay
  3. The Pulitzer Project: The Magnificent Ambersons
  4. Manhattan Beach, California

This weekend, I am going on a class field trip to the Neue, a friend’s spacewarming at her new office, and watching Alabama Football. I hope you stomp in some leaves and drink some apple cider. It finally feels like Autumn in New York!

Behind the Title: Why The Sound and the Fury?

SOUND AND FURY

As you have probably noticed, I have been slowly making my way through The Sound and the Fury on the blog. It has been a tedious and slow slog through the book, in the best of ways. It’s the very first Faulkner book I’ve read. I’ve only read his short stories in the past, which have been much more manageable.  I have been reading all of the tips and hints about how to read Faulkner that I can get my hands on, and I think I might be sharing some of those tips with you soon. Today I wanted to think a little more about the meaning behind the title of the book.

Do you usually have an “Aha!” moment when you are reading a book, when all of a sudden you’ve connected all the dots and understand how the title of the book was chosen? Sometimes the author uses the phrase in the book (see: All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr) or introduces an elaborate metaphor that the entire book can rest on (see: The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer). Unfortunately, Faulkner didn’t clue me in that easily. After some quick searching online, I learned that The Sound and the Fury was inspired by a line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
(Macbeth, Act V, Scene v)

The more I’ve thought about it, the more fitting this passage is to set the scene for The Sound and the Fury.

  • The Sound and the Fury opens with Benjy telling us the story of the Compsons when he was younger. Benjy is mentally disabled, literally full of sound and fury because he is unable to communicate through speech.
  • This passage reminded me of Dilsey in the fourth section. Dilsey is convinced that she has seen the end of the Compson family, and repeats throughout the section that she’s seen the first and the last of the Compsons.

“I’ve seed de first en de last,” Dilsey said. “Never you mind me.”
“First en last whut?” Frony said.
“Never you mind,” Dilsey said. “I seed de beginnin, en now I sees de endin.”

  • Although I’ve never read Macbeth, I know that Macbeth is a tragedy about the rise and fall of Macbeth and his family. If you, unlike me, got the Shakespeare reference before starting the book, you would have known that Faulkner’s book is also a tragedy.
  • Finally, I’ve read some essays online that argue that Quentin’s mania in section 2 of the book mirror Macbeth’s soliloquy in Act V. I’ll have to read the play myself before I can see what I think, but I thought this might be an interesting tidbit to point out.

Have you read The Sound and the Fury? What did you think?

Physics of the Impossible – Psychic Animals

I just finished reading Michio Kaku’s Physics of the Impossible, which explores and explains a lot of the different things we see in science fiction novels. One of my favorite chapters was on telepathy.

te·lep·a·thy (noun): the supposed communication of thoughts or ideas by means other than the known senses.

Guess what? According to Michio Kaku, telepathy is not impossible – just not the kind of psychic powers that we see on tv – like mind reading, future telling (sorry, tarot aficionados!) The most interesting part of the chapter though, in my opinion, was a brief history on telepathy, which included the animals that duped humans. Here are the psychic animals (all horses, for some reason) that Kaku mentions.

(A photograph of Clever Hans, not Morocco, since obviously no one could have photographed 1590)

Morocco the Horse:  One of the earliest cases of a psychic animal, Morocco the Horse lived in the 1590s. Morocco could spell, do math, and identify people in a crowd. He was so popular that Shakespeare wrote him into his play, Love’s Labour’s Lost as “the dancing horse.”

Moth: Why, sir, is this such a piece of study? Now here

is three studied, ere ye’ll thrice wink: and how

easy it is to put ‘years’ to the word ‘three,’ and

study three years in two words, the dancing horse

will tell you.

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